“I -- I'm sorry, what did you just call me?” Rebecca asked. She stopped and whirled around, bewildered.
“A Slayer,” said the weird dude who'd been following her for the last three blocks. He'd stopped when she'd stopped, leaving plenty of space between them. He didn't look like any of the muggers or rapists her mother had warned her about. He was an older man with neatly-trimmed brown hair and a paunch that let Rebecca know she could probably outrun him even in heels.
“A Slayer of what?” she asked. It was the middle of the day and people were walking around them without bothering to give them a first glance, let alone a second. “Because if you look at me, it should be obvious the only thing I slay is food.” She laughed uneasily.
The guy didn't even blink. “Vampires.”
“Vampires. Nosferatu. The undead --”
“I thought that was zombies,” Rebecca said.
“That's the living dead. Vampires are undead,” the guy said testily and started to go into some weird explanation.
“Okay, you're going to stay away from me,” Rebecca said over his next words when he started to come closer. She held her hand out in front of her. “And I'm going to go. And before you think about following me, I just want you to know that I have mace and I'm not afraid to call the cops.”
She looked over her shoulder when she left but he didn't follow her.
As far as super weird encounters with crazy people went, it wasn't bad at all. She'd gotten worse than that monthly in New York. She wouldn't normally even bother to remember it, except that it was pretty much the most interesting thing that'd spontaneously happened to her since moving to West Covina.
“Guys,” she said, bringing her drink over to join Josh and his friends when they sat down at the bar in Home Base. By coincidence, they'd happened to come by just as she was having an afternoon beer. “You will not believe this crazy thing that happened to me when I was walking around the other day. It was so totally random!”
Josh turned his eyes on her. His mouth widened in a smile. Rebecca savored the little flutter in her chest that it gave her. “What happened?”
“This guy was following me and then he started talking about vampires and all sorts of crazy stuff. It was like blah blah hunter, blah blah chosen one,” Rebecca explained. “It sounded like something out of a bad movie script.”
A sudden wave of beer spilled across the counter top. Rebecca quickly lifted her cup out of the way as people exclaimed in surprise.
“Sorry,” Greg muttered. He'd knocked over a glass. He looked at her intently. “Rebecca, can you say that again?”
“What,” she asked. “It sounded like a bad movie script?”
Greg's teeth flashed in a quick grin. It didn't meet his eyes. “No, before that.”
“He said I was a vampire hunter?” She was starting to get confused now. From the way Hector and White Josh were looking at Greg, she wasn't the only one.
Greg squinted at her. “Are you sure he called you a vampire hunter? He didn't say Slayer?”
“Actually,” Rebecca realized, going over her memory again, “I think he did.” The word rang with familiarity. Slayer. He had called her a Slayer, just the way Greg said it. It sounded like a title, something that meant more than just 'someone who slays'. “How did you know that?”
Greg's face contorted into a pained expression. “I need to make a phone call,” he said and promptly disappeared.
“Who's he talking to?” Rebecca asked when ten minutes had passed and Greg still hadn't returned. They all looked at the door to the back room. She took the opportunity to scoot a little closer to Josh.
“I don't know,” Josh said.
“You know,” Hector began. He looked from side to side, then leaned close. “There's this weird conspiracy theory out there that the Sunnydale earthquake sinkhole was caused by vampires.”
“Vampires,” White Josh said flatly.
“Vampires!” her Josh exclaimed. “Does this mean vampires are real?”
“Vampires are not real,” White Josh said.
“Vampires are not real,” Rebecca agreed. “The Sunnydale earthquake sinkhole was not caused by vampires. Wait, the what? What's the Sunnydale earthquake sinkhole?” She looked at Josh.
“Like ages ago, when we were kids, this town called Sunnydale basically collapsed in on itself,” Josh explained. “They said it was caused by a gas leak during an earthquake and then there was an explosion that triggered a sinkhole that grew super fast and swallowed up like, the entire city. Anyways, now there's a huge crater where it used to be. It was a big deal when it happened. It's really freaky because it was a super-localized earthquake. No one in LA felt it at all.
“And before it collapsed, Sunnydale was the murder capital of the world. People say it had a lot of gangs. It's actually kind of a tourist trap now. There's tours that drive people out to go look at it. They sell postcards with the crater on it. I mailed one to my aunt.”
That did not sound real. Rebecca looked from Josh to Hector to White Josh, but no one was laughing. “Are you serious?” She drew a circle in the air, indicating all of them. “Is this you guys being serious right now or is this like a game, 'haha, tell the newcomer something crazy and see if they believe it'?”
“No, it really happened. Sunnydale. You can look it up,” White Josh said. “They said it was a freak accident. A one in a million chance. Lots of people died.”
The Wikipedia page loaded on her phone. She skimmed it. Everything Josh had said had been real. Even what Hector had said about the vampire conspiracy was there too, tucked into the Controversies section of the page. Apparently, a lot of people had died. “Oh my god,” Rebecca said. “That's so tragic.”
“So if vampires are real, are they like the sparkly vampires?” Josh asked. “Or are they more like Interview with a Vampire, Tom Cruise and stuff?”
“Oooh, what if they're like the romance novels my mom reads?” Hector posed dramatically. “Isabella,” he began in a bad accent. “The only thing stronger than my lust for your blood is my lust for your heart!”
“I think I'd rather have Tom Cruise,” White Josh commented thoughtfully.
“Guys!” Rebecca said. “Vampires. Are not. Real.”
A wet rag dropped onto the counter top.
“Guys," Greg said with a heavy sigh. "Vampires are real.”
The crazy guy who'd followed Rebecca turned out to be Greg's Crazy Uncle Danny, who it turns out wasn't actually crazy. She tried to apologize for calling him crazy, but Greg just shrugged it off.
“No, it's okay. My family thought he was nuts too. But it turned out all the stuff he was talking about was real. A couple years ago he finally found and joined some weird secret organization that was involved in it. I never really paid attention when he told us. It all sounded a bit too Dungeons and Dragons to me.”
Greg looked at her significantly but Rebecca wasn't really sure what that look was supposed to say, because she thought Dungeons and Dragons actually sounded pretty cool. She'd just never had any friends who wanted to play it with her.
“I don't, I don't get it,” she said. “So you found out vampires are real and you're not out there? Not... killing bad guys and saving the world?”
Greg laughed and shook his head. “Are you kidding me? I didn't even enlist in the army. And at least those guys will pay for your college.”
“So you're telling me that vampires really did do the Sunnydale earthquake sinkhole,” Hector said eagerly.
“Well, I don't know the details,” Greg said. “Just that some big stuff went down and they saved the world and there's these magical Slayers that protect the world from all the weird stuff. My uncle's job is to go around recruiting for and helping them.”
“Dude, have you met a vampire?” Josh asked Greg, making a face like he couldn't even think of that happening. “Are they the sparkle kind or the Tom Cruise kind?”
“I don't know,” Greg said. “You'd have to ask my uncle.”
“Your uncle who wants to recruit me,” Rebecca said. “To be a Vampire Slayer. Because that's real life.”
Greg nodded. “Yup.”
“Thanks again for coming with me,” Rebecca said.
“What can I say, he's family.” Greg shrugged. “He's not in town very often. He travels a lot.”
A part of Rebecca that still had doubts was smothered when she recognized the man that answered the door to the apartment on the second knock. It was definitely the guy from the other day, which meant she was totally right to have had that anxiety attack after finding out that vampires were real and she was supposed to slay them.
She must have made some sort of noise because Greg's shoulder bumped hers, deliberate and reassuring. She spared him a small, grateful smile.
Crazy Uncle Danny looked a lot less creepy when he smiled at Greg and they traded awkward hugs. “Greg, thanks for calling.” He turned to Rebecca. “Rebecca Bunch, it's good to formally meet you. Call me Danny. Thanks for agreeing to talk to me. I'm sorry I made you uncomfortable.”
“I have to say,” Rebecca said. “Following strange women around and then talking to them about vampires? Does that usually work for you?”
“Actually, more often than you'd think,” Danny said.
“You should change up your strategy. Try something a little less creepy.” She followed him inside when Greg did. “But, Greg says vampires are real and you're not actually a creep.” She clapped her hands together. “So, tell me more.”
The inside of Danny's apartment was pretty normal -- a bit sparsely decorated, and with a literal spellbook lying on a coffee table, but otherwise pretty normal. It was a little bit neater than hers and looked like he didn't spend much time inside it.
“That's what I was trying to tell you,” he said. “Vampires are real and you're a Slayer. One girl in all the world, a Chosen One. She alone stands against the forces of darkness to save the world.”
“One?” Rebecca asked.
“Well, there's more than one now. A magic thing happened and they changed it. I'm not really sure how it works, but all the prophecies and magical texts are from before so they're kind of outdated.”
“Why me?” Rebecca asked. She looked down at herself and plucked at her shirt. She didn't look like she could save the world. She didn't feel it either. “Are you sure you have the right person? Maybe you have the wrong Rebecca Bunch.”
“That's not how it works,” Uncle Danny said. “There's a spell on my glasses. It lets me identify Slayers.” When Rebecca failed to be convinced, he sighed. “Look, do you remember a time, twelve or thirteen years ago, when you suddenly started feeling really strong? Superhumanly strong?”
Rebecca had spent most of her adolescence feeling small and like her life was slipping out of control. “No.”
“Are you sure? Any time you broke something that shouldn't have broken, or outran everyone in track, or healed more quickly than a normal person?”
Rebecca frowned dubiously. “I think I might have cracked Jeffrey Rogers' ribs in freshman year, but everyone said he'd broken them before I hit him,” she said. That had been weird. She hadn't gotten in trouble for it. They'd just made her talk to a counselor for six months.
Greg stared at her. “You broke someone's ribs in college?”
She'd been talking about high school. She winced. “Um, maybe? It was an accident. He tried to take my backpack from me.”
Uncle Danny motioned at one of several boxes near the base of a bookshelf. “Pick one of those up,” he said.
Rebecca moved to do so. “Is this one of those wax-on wax-off things? Is this supposed to build character?” She crouched down to adjust her grip on the corners of the box. It was chock full of books, most with weird titles in languages she couldn't read, all in different sizes.
“Remember: lift with your legs,” Greg teased.
She picked the box up and turned around. “Okay,” she said, “where do you want it?”
Greg looked at her suspiciously. Then he looked at his uncle. “I bet it's lighter than it looks.”
She shook the box a little bit. Felt like books. She looked down. Still looked like books. “Yeah, it's not that heavy.”
“Greg, take it from her,” Uncle Danny said.
Greg moved to do so. As soon as she let go, he dropped it. It thudded loudly on the ground.
Rebecca jumped back in surprise. “I thought you had it!”
Greg shook his hands, looking at her like he'd never seen her before. Not in a good way. “This box is full of books!”
Greg got up and pushed at the box with his foot. It budged, but only barely. “You picked that up like it was nothing. It's got to weigh more than 50 pounds.”
She looked blankly at him.
“Slayers have powers,” Danny said. “Speed, strength, healing.” He ticked each one off on his fingers. “And they're natural fighters. I watched a Slayer learn five years worth of swordplay in six months, and she was just a trainee. Experienced Slayers can learn in years what it takes a normal human a lifetime to master.”
Part of Rebecca didn't believe him despite everything she'd seen, because this sounded like stuff he'd learned from a comic book, but Greg was still staring at her like he'd never seen her before. It made her feel alone. She grit her teeth. Chin up, Rebecca. I didn't think I raised a coward, her mother's voice told her.
“Okay,” she said. “So I guess I'm a Slayer. What does that mean? Is there a secret clubhouse?”
“And Paula, get this,” Rebecca said excitedly around a bite of her bagel. “Get this: they have a secret clubhouse. Oh my god, I'm part of a secret club of superheroes and we have a secret clubhouse.”
Paula patted the back of her hand. “Cookie,” she said, face a picture of warm sympathy. “Are you sure you're feeling okay? They were just messing with you.”
“No, really,” Rebecca insisted. “I picked up a box of books and Greg was really impressed and then his uncle did like, a fire thing with his hands. It was really cool. I wonder how much he saves on lighters. ”
“I mean, a box of books isn't that heavy,” Paula said. Rebecca nodded, because that's what she'd thought too! “I've moved a box of books before. It's not like you could pick up that fridge or something.”
Rebecca looked at the fridge when Paula pointed at it. It didn't look that much heavier than the one at her house and she'd moved that one before when cleaning before her mother had visited. Only when cleaning before her mother had visited. That woman had eyes like a hawk. “I probably could. It's mostly just hard to get a good grip.”
Paula scoffed. “Oh honey, you can not pick up that fridge.”
“Sure I can,” Rebecca said, kind of getting into the idea of showing off. She got up. “I'll show you.” She grabbed a corner of it and started lifting, careful not to tip it over. It was heavy, but not unmanageably so. “See?”
After a long pause, Paula said, “Okay, I'm sorry I doubted you.”
“This is my destiny, Paula. I'm the Chosen One. One of the Chosen Ones. Apparently they rebranded.” At Paula's raised eyebrow, she admitted, “And, okay, maybe Josh was really excited when Greg told us vampires were real. I think this can be my in with him. Instead of being a boring old lawyer, I can be Rebecca the Vampire Slayer. Doesn't that have a nice ring to it?”
Danny had invited her to come to his house for training in how to be a vampire slayer, so Rebecca threw on her comfiest pants and sneakers instead of heels, then drove over the next evening she had free.
She blinked when Greg opened the door, surprised by the sight of him in a ragged t-shirt and sweatpants. A beer dangled from one of his hands. “Oh,” she said to him. “I didn't know you were going to be here.”
Greg smiled crookedly at her. “Well, he is still my uncle. We were just catching up on family drama. Beer?”
“Before the Sunnydale earthquake sinkhole, there was only one Slayer active at a time,” Danny explained when she joined them in the living room with a beer Greg passed to her. “And when one had their powers activated, a Watcher would find and train her and help her fight the forces of darkness. Around the time of the Sunnydale Hellmouth's destruction, which was what really left that crater there, one of the current leaders of the Watchers Council activated the powers of all the Potential Slayers. So now there's a bunch of Slayers around to patrol the Hellmouth and when we find new ones we explain things to them and invite them to join the Slayer Organization.”
“I always wanted to be part of a secret organization,” Rebecca admitted. “I tried to join the Masons but it turns out they don't take girls.”
It turned out that even though Danny didn't have much combat experience, he was willing to train her as much as he could. He also wanted Greg to take up the family business and become a Watcher. Watchers, apparently, were meant to be the Yoda to Rebecca's Luke Skywalker. They researched demons and demonic activity, and trained newly-discovered Slayers in how to fight vampires and stop bad things (like world-ending apocalypses) from happening.
“Does West Covina even have vampires?” she asked.
“It has some. They generally keep a low profile.”
Rebecca took back everything she'd thought about Greg's uncle having a normal looking house, because it turned out he'd turned his garage into a serious gym set up with padding, training dummies, and multiple cases of weapons.
In training, she turned out a lot stronger than she remembered being in high school. She'd never realized how much stronger she was because aside from never having problems opening pickle jars and being able to carry all her grocery bags in one trip, it had never been important. She'd stopped taking gym as soon as she'd been allowed to.
Danny gave Rebecca a sword and directed her in swinging it around at him in a specific way with specific places her feet were supposed to go. To her surprise, after only a few tries, the motions started to sink into her body, quickly becoming familiar. Rebecca literally dropped the sword in surprise when she realized it was happening.
They repeated this three times with different weapons, then with some sort of martial art that Danny didn't even bother explaining. He just showed her what to do and had her practice each motion over and over, faster and faster. When he sent Greg to grab her, she knocked him on his back and it was easy.
“Ow,” Greg said, staring at the ceiling.
“Holy shit,” Rebecca said. “I am so badass.”
Josh was going to think she was so cool when he saw her kill a vampire right in front of him! She was going to karate kick it and stab it in the heart with a wooden stake, and it'd burst into dust and Josh would say, Oh my God, Rebecca, you saved my life. She bet Valencia would never save Josh from a vampire attack.
“Yeah, well check this out.” Greg picked himself up and held up a hand. He took a deep breath and scrunched up his face in concentration. He snapped his fingers one, two, three times, and on the third time his fingers sparked, like trying to turn on a lighter with no fluid left. “Ha! Got it!” He did it three more times in quick succession, sparking on each snap. “Bet you can't do that.”
“You're just jealous because I can bench press more than you,” Rebecca retorted, even though secretly she thought it was pretty cool.
Greg rolled his eyes. “Do you even know how to do a bench press?”
“No,” she admitted without embarrassment, “but we both know I can do more of it than you can, and I bet that makes your masculinity feel threatened.” She did not stick out her tongue at him. But she was tempted.
A laugh escaped Greg's mouth. He put a hand over his heart and pretended to reel backwards. “You got me,” he said, “right in my threatened masculinity.”
She laughed and shoved him.
It didn't take long for word about her being a Slayer to get around to most of her friends and even some of her coworkers. Admittedly, Heather had muttered something under her breath about shared delusions when Rebecca told her, but she'd still listened without complaining when Rebecca had actually talked about it, so at least she was willing to play along.
He wasn't nearly as new to the vampire stuff as she was and now that his friends all knew about it, he seemed to be really taking his uncle's offer to train him as a Watcher to heart. He'd been there every Rebecca had shown up at Danny's house for one of their scheduled training sessions.
It felt like every time she went to Home Base or hung out with Greg and Josh, he had another fact to share about demons. Or another gruesome story about how a previous Slayer had died. There were... a lot of Slayers who'd died younger than Rebecca was now.
And here Rebecca was, still not sure how she felt about calling them demons. Were they really from another universe? Did that mean Satan was real? Did that mean God was real? That was something her mom would want to know. It was something Rebecca would ask her rabbi, if she had one.
Instead, she asked Greg. “If demons are real, is that proof that God is real?”
“I don't think it means anything either way,” Greg said. “There's some weird stuff about alternate universes and Hell Gods, but Hell Gods can be killed. I don't know what to believe anymore. Did you see the book my uncle let me borrow? The cover is made of skin! Not human skin,” he added hastily, “demon skin. It's green. Very creepy.”
“It's nice to see you having a hobby,” Rebecca said. She wondered how they'd gotten the skin off of the demon. Was it a demon that shed its skin like a snake, or was it more like the books bound in human skin?
“Oh, yeah! Check this out.” Greg wiggled his fingers in the air, then snapped them. They sparked, then his fingertip caught fire. Actual fire, not the sparks he'd been stuck on earlier.
Rebecca yelped and nearly fell off her stool. “Whoa!”
“I know, right? Now whenever someone asks me, I'll always have a light.” He held his fingertip out and mimed tipping an invisible hat with a playful grin. “Need a light?”
Rebecca stared at the flame on Greg's fingertip. It didn't look like it was hurting him, but when she brought her hand towards it, it gave off a merry heat. She rolled a spare napkin up in a tight cylinder and held its end to the flame. It caught fire just like it would with a real flame.
She brought the unlit end to her lips, pretending to smoke it with a pleased smile. “Why thank you, Mister Serrano.”
“I can't believe I'm saying this, but I'm asking you for a favor,” White Josh declared.
Rebecca had been surprised to receive the text asking her to get lunch with him. She was pretty sure he didn't like her, which wasn't a problem because she didn't like him that much either, and she'd thought they'd implicitly agreed to be frenemies.
Wanting a favor explained a lot.
“Okay,” she said. “What kind of favor? Because if it's legal advice, I have to warn you, my specialty is real estate law.” She'd been near the top of her other classes when she'd been in law school too, and literally first in her class in Torts, but a lot of her skills were starting to get rusty.
“I don't need legal advice,” White Josh said. When he crossed his arms, his biceps bulged. “It's about Darryl. He's been acting weird.”
Rebecca wondered if it was possible for someone to have too many muscles. Before meeting him, she would have said 'no'. Now, she wasn't so sure. “Darryl always acts weird,” she said. “That's just how he is.”
“No, he's been acting weird about you.”
“What do you mean? I've barely seen him. He's been busy with clients.” Actually, not that she thought about it, that was kind of weird.
“Yeah,” White Josh said. “But he usually talks about you more. But then I told him about what happened to you, with Greg's uncle and finding out you're a Slayer. Now he's been acting really weird whenever someone mentions you. Did you two have a fight or something?”
“I have no idea,” she said. “I mean, I knew he knew, because it's not really a secret and Paula and I talk about it at the office, but he's never brought it up with me.” A horrible idea occurred to her. “Do you think he thinks we're all crazy?”
“I don't know,” White Josh said. “But can you fix whatever it is? He is my boyfriend, so.” He shrugged.
White Josh had paid for her sandwich. It was a very good sandwich.
“Sure,” she said. “I'll see what I can do.”
Rebecca had no idea why Darryl was being weird, but now that she knew what she was looking for, she could see what White Josh meant. He was nervous and flustered around her. The last time he'd acted like that, there had been surprise parties involved. But her birthday wasn't for months.
He literally jumped when she barged into his office and shut the door.
“Okay,” Rebecca demanded. “What's going on? Is this about me being a Slayer?”
“What? N-no, of course not!” Darryl was a terrible liar, so at least now she knew it was totally about her being a Slayer.“I don't know what you're talking about.”
“Don't lie to me,” she said. “I know you've heard me and Paula talking about the Slayer thing.” He twitched every time she said the word 'Slayer'. “I know it sounds weird and crazy but don't worry. It doesn't affect my work performance and I am totally dealing with it on my own time.”
“That's not it. It's not about your performance. You're still our top lawyer.”
“Then what? You are surprisingly non-judgmental and I would hope that if you had a problem with me, you would let me know so we could talk it out like adults. Come on Darryl,” she said, and because she still had no idea what the problem was, she broke out the big guns. She pouted. “I thought we were friends.”
Instead of answering, Darryl squirmed. He made a face that looked like he was being tortured. He let out a high whine.
Eyes wide, Rebecca edged back very slightly.
“Okay, you've got me! I just can't keep this a secret any longer!” Darryl exclaimed dramatically. “It's me! I'm one of them!”
“One of who?”
“I'm a demon!” Darryl cried, twisting his hands together anxiously.
“Did you just call yourself a demon?”
“I am a demon,” Darryl said again, chin trembling. She hadn't heard him wrong. “This isn't even my real skin. I mean, technically, it is my skin because I'm the one who grew it, but I have another skin, the one I was born in,” he said. He dug his thumb under his chin and pulled. The skin there rippled and peeled away, like he was removing a Halloween mask except that the monster was on the inside. Where the skin had been removed, Rebecca could see shiny dark scales underneath.
Darryl let go and the skin flopped back in place. Just like that, he looked like he always had. “I told Stacy I wouldn't tell you, but you know I just can't keep a secret. It's been really eating up at me,” he confided.
“Stacy, your ex-wife? Stacy knows you're a demon?” Wait, but if Darryl was a demon and his ex-wife was also a demon, then -- “Is Madison a demon too? I thought you were 1/8th Chippewa. How does that,” Rebecca stopped. Maybe she didn't want to know.
Darryl slumped forward until his forehead rested on the surface of his desk. “Oh God,” he muttered.
Rebecca had no idea what she was supposed to do with that knowledge. Darryl was her boss. He came to work everyday. He was terminally uncool but a total sweetheart. He was dating Josh's friend. Not all demons were dangerous or evil. There were good demons too, who were just people trying to live their lives like everyone else. Greg's uncle had taken care to make that clear. Rebecca didn't want to be demon-racist.
“Well,” she began, drawing out the word to buy herself some time. She took a deep breath and put her hands together. It was time to be a good ally. She'd read Internet articles about being a good ally. “Thank you for sharing that with me,” she said. “I can see that was very important to you.”
Darryl rolled his head on the desk until he could look up at her. His mustache looked extra sad when he frowned at her. “Is that it? You're not going to try to kill me or freak out?”
“Kill --” Rebecca scoffed but she could tell that Darryl had been genuinely worried. It made her insides clench unpleasantly. The thought of someone she cared about being afraid of her felt like cold water being poured over her heart. “No, Darryl, of course not. Just because I'm a Slayer doesn't mean I'm going to slay anyone. You're my boss! And my friend. ”
“Aww, thanks Rebecca,” Darryl said, brightening. “I knew I could count on you.”
“So, you're a demon! Wow, yeah. Wow. What kind are you? Or is that rude to ask?”
“Well, I usually don't talk about it outside the family,” Darryl said. “West Covina doesn't have much of a demon community, so when my wife left me, I didn't have loads of other people to talk to about it. But I'm a Vothrak demon. So are Stacy and Madison. I don't really know what else to say. We pretty much live like regular humans, except that we have to grow new human skins if the old one gets damaged or we grow out of it. We never get involved in anything that'd attract a Slayer's attention.
“I was born here, you know, on Earth, so this is my home. I like it as it is, not as a barren hellscape torture playground for evil demons. And I really am 1/8 Chippewa from my dad's side. His grandmother remarried after the kids were born. You should see some of the family photos.”
“Are you going to tell White Josh?” Rebecca couldn't imagine keeping such an important part of herself hidden from Josh. It hadn't even occurred to her to not tell her friends about being a Slayer. Okay, she hadn't believed it at the time, but she felt like even if she had, she still would have gone straight to Home Base.
“I wasn't going to, but he's taken you being a Slayer really well. Better than I did. Sorry,” he apologized but Rebecca waved it off. “But telling someone you're not even human? I don't know. Isn't that too much?”
“He's already noticed something's up,” Rebecca said. “He's worried about you. In fact, he even asked me to figure out what's wrong.” He had to have been pretty worried, to come to her for help. “And he's a good guy. I'm sure he'd understand.”
“You think? Because I like him a lot. Do you think maybe you'd be able to whisper in his ear a little? Find out how he'd react if he found out someone close to him was a demon? Do you think he'll hate me?” His shoulders slumped.
Darryl didn't look like a demon. He didn't act like one either. Sure, he was weird, but she'd always thought it was Darryl-weird, not demon-weird. Rebecca sighed. “I think you should tell him yourself. He's not going to hate you.” She took a deep breath and crossed her fingers behind her back. “But if you tell him and he freaks out, call me and I'll talk to him.”
Darryl didn't call that night.
Instead, he sent a bunch of texts while Rebecca was watching Netflix, phone forgotten in her purse. Anxiety knotted in her chest when she went to get it and realized she'd missed his messages, but the first thing she saw was the most recent one, nothing but a big row of smiley face emojis.
Rebecca let out a sigh of relief and scrolled up to read the whole thing.
“I got a call from my boss and he needs me for something going on in Germany,” Danny announced. “I'm flying out tomorrow. You guys have my number in case anything happens. And help yourselves to any books or weapons. Greg, I'll give you a spare key.”
“Wait, but what about our training?” Rebecca asked. She was getting kind of into the whole training and exercising thing. She was definitely going to be able to kill a vampire and win Josh's heart now. Also, she'd lost three pounds, which almost made up for the five pounds she'd put on when she'd moved to West Covina.
“I've asked Greg to act as your Watcher and train with you,” Danny answered. “The Watcher's Council has agreed and will send some representatives from the Slayers in the coming weeks. They can also introduce you to the other Slayers and answer any specific questions you might have about becoming a Slayer. Don't worry. You'll like them.”
It was past sundown when she and Greg finished training and left Danny's place.
Rebecca pulled her jacket closer around herself, burrowing into its warmth. One of the streetlights was out but the strength of the moonlight more than made up for it. “Hey,” she said impulsively. “Can I tell you something weird?”
“Hit me, Bunch.”
“Darryl's a demon.”
“A demon at what?”
“No, I mean he's literally a demon. He told me.”
Greg stopped in his tracks. His mouth was slack with shock. “Darryl? No way. You're messing with me. How can Darryl be a demon? I've seen him. He doesn't look like a demon.”
“Apparently, he wears a people suit.” At Greg's horrified expression, she clarified. “He didn't kill anyone for it. He grew it himself.”
Greg stared at her. His expression changes several times. Finally, he said, “I can't tell if you're fucking with me or not.”
“No, really. Ask White Josh.”
“White Josh knows? Oh. I guess he would know. If Darryl's really a demon.” Greg pulled his phone out of his pocket and started to text. “What kind of demon is he?”
“Okay, so there's this thing in my lola's stories that's almost like a vampire.” Josh's eyes glittered with excitement. “It's called a manananggal. Do you know about them? Are they real?”
She tried to repeat what he said but it came out a garbled mess of syllables and she knew trying again would only have similar results. She'd have to practice later. “I've never heard of them before,” she said, imagining a little Josh Chan sitting in his grandmother's lap and listening to spooky stories. Her grandmother had never done that. “What do they do?”
“Well, my mom says they're not real but people say vampires aren't real either so I'm not sure what to believe anymore,” Josh said. “They're kinda like witches that can split themselves in half and then the top half flies around like a bat and sneaks into houses and uses its tongue to suck out your blood. They eat babies when they're still in their moms.”
“Gross,” Rebecca commented.
Josh nodded. “My lola first told me about them when I was a kid, when my mom was pregnant with Jastenity,” he confided. “I had nightmares for a month.”
“That's... terrifying,” Rebecca said.
“I know, right?” Josh said, sounding much closer to thrilled than horrified. “So, are they real?”
“Honestly, I have no idea,” Rebecca admitted. “Maybe?” So far everything in the stories, all the fairy tales they taught to kids and all the legends they made horror movies about, all of that was real in one way or another. Rebecca was kinda surprised that all her nightmares were still about embarrassing herself in public. “I'll ask Greg.”
“Thanks,” Josh said. A breath later he said, “You know, I think it's really cool that you're a vampire hunter now. Just like Abraham Lincoln.”
There was no polite way to ask if Josh had thought the movie was real, so Rebecca pretended he hadn't said it. She twisted a lock of hair around her fingers and looked up at him through her lashes. “You think I'm really cool?”
“Yeah! It's like, my friend is going to save the world. For real! That's so cool. Have you killed any vampires yet?”
“Not yet, but you know, any day now,” Rebecca said. “I've been training super hard and I'm totally ready. So ready.”
The representatives from the Slayers and Watchers, both women, were waiting for Rebecca when she got home. They stood on the porch, lit dimly by the patio light. One was a couple years older than Rebecca but the other looked younger, college-aged at best. When she saw Rebecca had noticed them, she raised an arm and waved.
“So you're the Slayer from West Covina?” asked the younger woman. Something about her seemed a little weird, but Rebecca wasn't sure what. It wasn't the pink streaks in her hair. It wasn't the way she looked at Rebecca, kinda hungry in a way that'd be hot if she hadn't looked too young to get into a bar. It was something else that almost felt like Rebecca had eaten something that didn't agree with her.
“Well, technically I'm from New York,” Rebecca said, trying to ignore the weird feeling. “I moved here last year.”
She looked around, lip slightly curled in disgust. “...Why?”
Rebecca felt the familiar excuse rise to her lips, but before she could voice it, the older woman nudged her partner. “Don't mind Viv,” she said and stuck out her hand. “She's always trying to act cool. I'm Theresa. Thanks for agreeing to meet with us.”
“Yeah, of course,” Rebecca said. She unlocked her front door and pushed it open. “Please, come --”
Suddenly a hand was on her mouth.
“Rule number one of being a Slayer,” Viv said, completely serious, and let go. “Never invite someone into your house. Didn't your Watcher tell you that?”
“Yeah,” Rebecca said, “but I thought that was only for demons. Some demons.”
“Exactly,” Theresa said. She walked past Rebecca into her house. “Viv?”
Vivian walked forwards, then stopped in front of the door. She put a hand up in the air, pushed against an invisible wall, and looked pointedly at Rebecca.
There was nothing there. Rebecca waved her hand in the middle of the doorway. She stepped back and forth over the threshold several times. Then, she very slowly crossed into the house and looked between Viv and Theresa.
“So, are you a demon or is this just a demonstration?” Rebecca asked. She jumped back a split second later as Viv made a weird motion with her head and her face changed, suddenly becoming weird and bumpy. Her eyes, once dark brown, now glowed bright yellow. Her mouth was half-open, revealing sharp fangs. The forehead wrinkles made her look like a Klingon. “Oh my god!”
“Can't it be both?”
Darryl was a demon too. Darryl was a demon and he wore a human suit and he was a perfectly nice man who wouldn't hurt a fly. He had a human boyfriend, who he seemed to have a perfect relationship with, and he was the most relaxed boss she'd ever had. Also, if they were going to murder her, they'd already had plenty of chances.
Rebecca willed her heart to stop pounding. She smiled and tried to act uphased. “So you're a vampire?” Viv's face looked like the vampires drawn in the books she'd flipped through. They were the only demon Rebecca'd read about who couldn't enter a home without an invitation. “I've never met a vampire before. Please, come in.”
The ridges on Viv's face melted into smooth skin. The sharp points of her fangs disappeared. “Trusting,” she commented as she stepped over the threshold.
“Well, I figure if you were going to murder me, you would have done it already,” Rebecca said.
“You're not wrong,” Theresa said. She looked Rebecca up and down. “So you're the Slayer they found.”
“Yep. That's me. Are you guys both Slayers too?”
“Just Theresa,” Viv said. “I'm her Watcher.”
“They let vampires be Watchers?” Rebecca blurted out, then wondered if that was insensitive to say. “I mean, not that I'm saying vampires shouldn't be Watchers,” she hastened to add. “I'm sure you're a very good one. But he said the job was Vampire Slayer, so I figured, maybe they have a thing against vampires.”
Viv laughed. “I like you,” she said. “You're cute.”
“Back in the day,” Theresa said. “The Watchers Council was a group of old British guys. There'd only be one Slayer at a time, each one getting her powers when the last one died. They'd look for the Slayer and train her to fight the forces of evil, until she died, and then they'd do it all over again and so on and so forth. So the Watchers would record everything they had about what the Slayer fought and how they trained and how to kill certain demons, and all that stuff.”
“Right,” Rebecca said, because she'd already heard that much.
“And then around fifteen years ago, this one Slayer, Buffy, was called. And while she was the Slayer, one of her friends who'd been helping her as a Slayer did this spell, and basically all the people who could potentially be Chosen Ones, . There was some serious shit going on around then and the old Watchers Council was basically completely destroyed.”
“And whatever happened then is what led to the Sunnydale earthquake sinkhole,” Rebecca said, putting the pieces together.
“Is that what they're calling it now? Yeah, that was the Hellmouth. So all this shit got changed up suddenly, and with all the new Slayers, Buffy started the Slayer Organization and her Watcher, his name is Giles, he took over the Watcher's Council and we're doing things... differently now. That's the short version.”
They ended up at a bar. A demon bar, because even though Viv apparently drank pig's blood from a butcher, she preferred human and most demon bars served some sort of human blood, usually acquired from blood banks or willing donors. Apparently, it was more lucrative than selling plasma, if you were desperate and knew who to go to.
“So, how many demons usually live in a town this size?” Rebecca asked, trying to sound casual and not totally weirded out by the idea that there were so many local demons in West Covina that they had their own bar.
“Anywhere else, you'd have barely any,” Viv said. “But Los Angeles was a huge center for demonic activity back when the Hellmouth was still active, so a lot of demons live in the nearby cities. You wanna be close enough to drive to LA for a good time, but far enough away that if a Master Vampire starts causing trouble or a ninja cult gets the attention of a Slayer, you can hole up until things blow over.” She sounded like she was speaking from experience.
“Most of the demons that live in a city like this aren't any more a threat than most humans,” Theresa explained. “The ones that can't integrate at all with humans live in bigger cities, where there's more targets from out of town to prey on and places to keep from being caught. We're close enough to LA that if West Covina suddenly starts getting a rash of mysterious animal attacks, hunters will drive over and clear things up. And if that doesn't work, well, they have our number.”
The bar they were going to was marked just by a plain door in the corner of a strip mall. It had no sign and even the door looked like an afterthought someone had left as another store's side entrance. But now that Rebecca knew what she was looking for, the parking lot was awfully full for eleven o'clock at night when they were the only ones outside and everything was closed.
Theresa rapped on the door with the side of her fist.
A teenager in a fishnet shirt opened the door a couple seconds later. He took one look at Theresa and his bored expression quickly shifted into first surprise, then the wrinkly forehead and yellow eyes that meant vampire. Theresa caught the door as he tried to swing it closed. He jumped. “Slayer,” he said. “We don't want any trouble.”
“We're not here for trouble,” Theresa said. “We're just here for a drink, same as everyone else.”
“Put your game face away,” Viv added, hip cocked. “I'll keep her in line.”
“How did he know you're a Slayer?” Rebecca whispered.
“They can sense it,” Theresa said. “And we can sense them too. It's part of our abilities. You should be able to feel them both from here.”
Come to think of it, the weird indigestion feeling she'd been having all evening did seem stronger than it'd been twenty minutes ago. “I thought that was bad sushi.”
The teenage vampire sighed, looking nervously between them as he decided that it'd be more trouble trying to keep them out than to just let them. He let go of the door and Theresa pushed it open. Rebecca wondered how old he actually was and how he felt about being a teenager forever.
“Thanks,” Theresa said. She confidently led them down the long, dimly-lit hallway towards general sound of chatter and music.
At first glance, the room looked pretty much the same as any dive bar. There were posters on the walls, drinks chalked onto a whiteboard behind the bar, and a small group of people intently playing pool in the corner. But when she looked closer, the differences stood out in sharp relief. Rebecca definitely spotted the word “blood” on the board, next to the beer selection and some other things whose names Rebecca didn't recognize. One of the guys playing pool was blue. And some of the shadows were really dark.
Viv didn't wait for Rebecca to finish looking around. She made a beeline for the bar without looking back.
“Let's find somewhere to sit,” Theresa suggested. She guided Rebecca to one of the empty tables near the wall. She snagged a chair for Viv from a neighboring table. “Don't stare.”
“I'm trying not to,” Rebecca admitted. It wasn't easy. She'd never seen anything like many of the patrons of the bar before and she was starting to feel intensely curious.
Theresa surveyed the crowd. A low murmur had passed through the crowd as they entered. More than a few... people (even if they looked weird, they were still people, Rebecca reminded herself firmly) looked at them and then said something to their friends, shooting them the occasional additional glance.
“This is a pretty boring group,” Theresa declared. “Some vampires, a bunch of relatively peaceful demons. The eats worms and lives in the sewers kind, not the sacrifice a virgin on the full moon kind. We don't bother them as long as they don't start killing people.
“A lot of demons are weird and gross but they don't want the world to end just as much as we do. Even vampires sometimes drink pig's blood from the butcher's instead of killing people to eat. Not because they care about humans. Just because it's easier to do and safer than getting cops and potentially Slayers chasing after them.”
Viv set two drinks on the table, keeping a tall glass of dark liquid for herself. “Rebecca, I didn't know what you wanted so I got you the same as Theresa,” she said.
Rebecca took a tentative sip of her glass. Beer. She was okay with that. “What are you drinking?”
“Blood wine.” Viv took a sip and grimaced. “They took blood. And then they took wine. And then they mixed the two.”
Rebecca couldn't keep the disgust from her face. “And that's supposed to be good?”
“That's definitely not how you're supposed to make it,” Viv said. “And no, it's disgusting but it was the only thing with human blood in it. So, Rebecca, tell me more about why you moved from New York to come here.”
Rebecca was waiting for the bartender to give her another round when she overheard the demons to her right at the bar.
“And would you believe, the bastards sent construction guys over the other week and I had to scare them off! Right on our property! He says he's going to claim it's abandoned and like, hello, we're living right here! He's calling it eminent domain.”
“Um, excuse me,” Rebecca interrupted. “Eminent domain doesn't work like that.”
“Who're you?” The demon asked rudely, but Rebecca had to admit she'd been the rude one first so it was only fair. The demon looked about her height and was covered in thick black fur and had rounded ears at the top of her head and a snout that made her look like a bear. She also had very large, very sharp-looking teeth and the dark, curved claws on the end of her paws.
“Actually,” Rebecca said, “as I was just telling my friends, I'm a lawyer. Real estate is actually my area of expertise. That's eminent domain and stuff.”
“I thought you were a Slayer.”
“Being a Slayer is more of a hobby. A hobby someone else told me I have. I'm a lawyer during the day. And sometimes at night, but the work load in West Covina is pretty light compared to New York so I usually have time for other things.”
The smile on the demon's face was a lot more welcoming than anything Rebecca had expected to feel from a mouth full of fangs. “No kidding, you're really a lawyer?” She held out her paw. “Can I buy you a drink? I'd love to get your thoughts on this problem I've been having. I'd hate to tell my nephew that he has to move. He loves it here. My name's Emily.”
Rebecca shook her paw gingerly. The claws were not as sharp as she'd thought they were. “Rebecca.”
Twenty minutes later, Theresa and Viv found Rebecca neck-deep in the middle of actually a pretty open-and-shut case about a developer who had gotten a little too bendy with the law on the assumption that an owner who couldn't even show up in person for a meeting wouldn't bother to file suit. But Rebecca could go out in public during the day and was also legally a lawyer to boot.
Fixing this problem would be as easy as pie and Rebecca found herself genuinely wanting to help. Helping someone save their home was a lot more personally fulfilling than being a go-between for corporate interests, she'd realized.
“Hey, how's it going? We were wondering what was taking so long,” Theresa interrupted.
“Oh, hey guys,” Rebecca said.
“Who's this?” Viv asked. She narrowed her eyes at Emily suspiciously. “Not someone who needs to get mixed up in Slayer business, are they?”
“Oh, no, we're not talking about Slayer stuff,” Rebecca said. “This is Emily. She's come back to West Covina to help her nephew fight off some developers trying to bulldoze their house. Spoiler: we're gonna sue them for all they've got!”
Viv stared at her.
“No, really,” Rebecca insisted. “I gave her my card already. We already scheduled the preliminary consult.”
Emily waved. “Nice to meet you.”
“Paula, Paula, Paula, I need your help,” Rebecca said urgently. “I have a client coming.”
Paula looked at her blankly. “So?”
“She's a,” Rebecca lowered her voice and leaned closer. “Demon. We have a consult and--”
“You have a consult with a demon?”
“Yeah, she has a very interesting case about—wait, nevermind, I'll explain the case later. The point is she basically looks like a giant bear and she's meeting me here tonight so we need to make sure everyone else is out by seven.”
Paula opened her mouth, then shook her head. “You know what, I'm not going to ask. Okay, what do you need?”
Their original plan went up in flames.
It turned out most people didn't actually want to go to the lawyer happy hour event Paula forged invitation emails to, and then someone asked Darryl if the building-wide fumigation warning was going to kill their plants, at which point he spilled the beans that there was no such thing scheduled. Their plan C was pulling the fire alarm, but then Paula asked how long the firefighters would be there and how they were going to smuggle a bear-shaped demon past them, and Rebecca didn't have an answer to that.
Darryl, of all people, was the one who rescued them. “Paula, why are you telling people the office is getting fumigated tonight? You know we don't have termites here.”
“It's none of --” Paula began, but Rebecca elbowed her into silence.
“No, no, wait, maybe he can help,” Rebecca told her. To Darryl, she said, “I have a consult. At seven, with a demon. She's nice; it's fine. But we need to get everyone who might be weird about it out of the office before she gets here.”
“Darryl knows about demons?” Paula hissed at her.
“Darryl is a demon,” Rebecca hissed back.
Darryl blushed and waved a little. “Guilty,” he chirped. “You just need everyone out at seven? That's easy.”
A few minutes later, everyone in the office got an email telling them to get out by 6:30 if they weren't part of the Dolan case because the client had requested privacy. Yes, Rebecca heard Darryl clarifying as the afternoon went on, that was a real email. No, Maya was not allowed to join the case. Yes, this email was meant for all employees. No, no one was expected to work from home tonight.
That was how, when seven pm rolled around, only Rebecca, Paula, and Darryl were left.
“Okay,” Paula said, looking around at the completely empty office. “Let's go meet a demon then.”
Part of being a Slayer was taking regular patrols around the neighborhood, just like cops did (just like Batman did). West Covina didn't have enough of a demon presence to need one Slayer, let alone two, so Theresa and Viv took Rebecca to Los Angeles to show her the ropes.
They started their patrol by walking around in the dark in the clubbing part of town, dressed like bait. That was what Viv called them, laughing cheerfully.
“Just try to look like a helpless and delicious blood-filled treat,” she said, then fell back. She'd be out of sight but still within earshot, ready to provide backup if necessary.
Rebecca was wearing a cute skirt and shoes she could run in. She had a scary big knife at her hip and a polished wooden stake Theresa had given her in her jacket. It was as long as her forearm and similar to the ones she had trained with. She felt kinda badass. “Do you guys do this a lot?”
“It depends on where we're staying. Yes, for bigger cities like this,” Theresa said. “It helps us stay aware of what's going on.”
They weren't going to go into any demon bars tonight. Though West Covina's unnamed bar had been subtle and in a lot of ways just like any other dive bar in the suburbs, Los Angeles' demon bars were anything but. A Slayer couldn't just walk into one and expect to nose around without getting in a fight.
“We don't have a permanent Slayer presence in LA anymore,” Theresa explained as they walked, dodging around drunk partiers. “But there's hunters that keep vampires and minor demons in check. They have our number if they need to call in the big guns, in case of apocalypse, but that's been slowing down in the past few years. There's just not as much mystical energy in this part of the country anymore.”
“Because the Sunnydale Hellmouth is gone,” Rebecca said and Theresa nodded. “Were you there for that, when it happened? What really happened there?” On a slow day at work, she'd given in to her curiosity and Google Image Searched pictures of the crater. It was a really big crater.
“Yeah.” Theresa smiled faintly. “Before the spell that activated all the Slayers, there were Potential Slayers, which meant that if Buffy, who was the active Slayer at the time, died, then the magic that makes Slayers happen would give the Slayer power to one of the Potentials and turn her into a Slayer. That actually happened once before, where she died and was revived and the magic still counted it, so there were two Slayers for a while. Then she died again and came back again, this time because of a spell, and that messed things up and upset some balance or whatever, so some big bad called the First Evil started hunting Potentials down and slaughtering them.
“So Giles, he's one of the Watchers who runs the Watchers Council now, he found a bunch of us and brought us to Sunnydale where even if the crazy assassins were still trying to murder us, at least we had a fighting chance. Eventually, we took the fight to the First Evil and were able to defeat it and somewhere around then Willow was able to turn us all into Slayers.”
Rebecca bit her lip. That sounded terrifying and dangerous. She said so.
“Oh, it was really dangerous. A lot of people died. One girl even killed herself while we were training. She couldn't handle the stress and the First Evil had creepy psychic powers and talked her into hanging herself.”
“That sounds awful. I'm so sorry you had to go through that.”
Theresa shrugged. “It was a long time ago. I'm over it. Things are a lot safer now in comparison, because there's so many more Slayers and a lot of the heavy hitters from ten years ago hit even harder now. But Slayers still die every year. It only takes one vampire to get a lucky shot in, you know? We might be Slayers, but if you're too slow and a vampire rips out your throat, you're still going to bleed to death.”
The shadows on the street suddenly looked a lot more ominous and it wasn't long after that that they walked into their first vampire attack, some guy chowing down on a woman in an alley. After a quick nudge to Rebecca's ribs to alert her, Theresa was on him, leaving Rebecca still paralyzed by indecision and surprise.
She pulled the vampire off his prey and whirled him to face her, then stabbed him with a stake in one smooth motion. He exploded in a burst of dust before Rebecca could register more than the wrinkled forehead, bloody fangs, and lips curled into an animalistic snarl.
They left the victim there and kept going. (“Do you have your phone? Can you call the cops?” Theresa asked, and when the dazed victim nodded, she said, “Call them and if anyone asks, tell them you were attacked by a gang member on PCP.”)
That vampire was probably a fledgling, Theresa explained. Most vampires either died in their first few years of undeath or figured out how to feed without leaving behind a trail of corpses and then lived much longer.
The longer they were on patrol and the more stories Theresa told about her time as a Slayer, the more dangerous it sounded. She didn't even try to downplay it. She'd just casually mention the casualties, Slayers who were killed in fights or who got horribly maimed and had to retire.
Rebecca did not want to get sacrificed by a demon to open a portal to Hell.
Their patrol took them through several cemeteries. Sometimes vampires hung out there and apparently newly-converted vampires were expected to claw their way out of their graves when they woke up. It was the most bizarre midnight stroll of her life. A couple times, they'd walk near someone who gave Rebecca the same weird stomach feeling that Viv did, and that vampire, sometimes with friends, would take one look at them and hustle away.
They were walking through their third cemetery, taking their time down a path towards the newer graves, when something hit Rebecca from out of nowhere and knocked her to the ground. Her stomach clenched. Vampire. More than one, coming at them from all directions.
She cried out in surprise and had just enough time to get a glimpse of bared fangs and get her arm up in time for those fangs to sink themselves into her arm instead of her neck. She fumbled for the stake in her jacket.
Her arm felt like it was on fire but she forced herself to ignore it as she stabbed blindly with the stake, jabbing it into places that were apparently not the vampire's heart. She knew immediately when the stake thunked into the vampire at just the right angle. The vampire's eyes widened and she felt a wrenching in her arm as he tried to get away, and then -- poof, an explosion of dust that left her wide-eyed and coughing.
Rebecca barely had time to catch her breath before she realized that there were three more vampires. One, a woman, was screaming. The other two were trying to pull her away, with middling success.
“Johnny! No!” She turned her eyes on Rebecca, and snarled through her fangs, “I'll fucking kill you, you bitch!”
Rebecca felt like she'd been punched in the gut. “I -- I didn't mean to,” she started to say, but the vampire broke free from her friends and leaped on her before she could get the words out. They rolled on the ground together, Rebecca desperately trying to throw her off before she could get bitten.
The vampire was almost as strong as she was but Rebecca was finally able to kick her away and struggle back to her feet. And then -- the tip of a stake erupted from her chest, she shrieked, and she burst into dust just as the other vampire had. Vivian stood behind her, calm.
At that, the other two vampires turned and started to run away. Quickly, Viv drew a crossbow and shot them both in the back with confident, practiced actions, hitting both; they fell to the ground and burst into ash. Viv gave Rebecca and Theresa a wide grin. “Glad I didn't miss all the fun.”
Rebecca forced a smile. “Yeah. Fun.” Now, the pain that she had pushed aside in her arm returned, sharp and stabbing. “Ow.”
Viv took her by the good arm and helped Rebecca tug off her jacket. Her arm had been torn open by the vampire's fangs. It looked just like a big dog bite. Blood streaked darkly against her forearm, seeming almost to shine as Viv angled her arm this way and that beneath the moonlight.
“It's not bad,” she said after examining it. “Slayers heal faster than regular humans. It should be fine in a week. Can you still move your fingers?”
Rebecca moved her fingers obediently. It hurt, but she was able to wiggle her fingers and open and close them into a loose fist. “Yeah.”
“There's a first aid kit in the car,” Theresa said. “Let's put a bandage on this and call it a night. I guess we'll let the demons off easy this time.”
Rebecca managed to keep it together until after she waved goodbye to Theresa and Viv and closed the door behind her and brushed her teeth and even started to go to bed, except that every time she moved her arm, she thought about the vampire she'd killed again and his girlfriend's stricken face when he'd burst into dust.
She'd killed him. He was dead now. Viv had laughed it off when Rebecca tried to bring it up, saying that they were already dead. The way he'd burst into dust made her want to laugh it off too, pretend it wasn't real. But it was real.
Rebecca didn't want to be a killer.
She didn't want to hurt anyone, self defense or not.
When Rebecca had asked if Slayers ever killed humans, Theresa had said that mistakes were inevitable. When she'd asked if Slayers ever killed humans on purpose, the answer was, “only if there's no other option.”
She couldn't stop thinking about what happened earlier, replaying the fight over and over in her mind – the flare of pain in her arm, the suddenness of the vampire bursting into dust in front of her. She'd thought killing a vampire would make her feel strong. It didn't.
There was no way she'd be able to sleep tonight.
She wandered outside for what felt like hours, trying and failing to not dwell on how pathetic a Slayer she was. What kind of Slayer felt bad about killing a vampire? What would Josh think? The thought of his excitement, which she'd clung to not days before, now made her feel sick inside. And it was all her fault. She'd brought it on herself.
She'd been so happy, so sure that this was it. This was going to be the thing that proved she wasn't a loser and finally made Josh love her. Now she couldn't think of any of that without recoiling. She'd told everyone that she was a Slayer and now she was going to have to... what? Tell them she wasn't cut out for it?
She'd been so stupid.
She didn't realize where she'd ended up and whose door she was knocking on until it opened.
Greg blinked fuzzily at her. He was wearing a t-shirt and boxers and his cheek still had lines on it from his pillow. “Rebecca?”
Rebecca hadn't thought past this point. What could she even say? How could she admit she was a failure to someone who was so good at his part in this crazy vampire stuff?
“Are you okay?”
“I killed someone,” she blurted. And then, before Greg's expression could get past the shock stage, she added, “I mean a vampire. He was already dead, but I made him dead-dead.”
Greg pulled her inside. “What happened?”
“Well, he attacked me, with the 'arrrr!',” she brought one hand up to her mouth in the shape of fangs. “I tried to fight him off but he bit me and I stabbed him with the stake like we trained and then he exploded. Into dust.” There had been vampire ashes in her hair when she'd showered. She'd bled all over the sleeve of her jacket and now it had a hole in it.
Greg stared at her bandaged arm as if seeing it for the first time. “Is that what happened to your arm?”
“What?” Rebecca looked at her arm. She poked at the bandage gently. “Yeah, but Viv says it'll be fine in a week. It already stopped bleeding.”
Greg let go of her. “Isn't that good? I thought the whole point of being a Slayer was to kill vampires. Why do you look like you've been crying?”
She had been crying. She wiped at her eyes with the back of her hand, but it came away dry. “It was self defense,” she said, “but I still killed him. He was still a person and he's dead now because of me.”
“But you're a Slayer. That's what you do,” Greg said. “They eat people. They're monsters.”
“Dehumanizing people is the first step towards becoming a Nazi,” Rebecca said.
“He attacked you first.”
“I know, and I thought killing a vampire would make me feel good, but it doesn't. I hate it.” Rebecca couldn't figure out how she felt. She just knew that she felt bad. She'd thought it'd be fun, but it wasn't.
And what about other demons? Emily had grand-kids. She kept pictures of them in her wallet. They were adorable. Rebecca had met Darryl's daughter too, and oh my god what if someone killed Darryl for being a demon and she had to grow up without a father? What if she ended up killing someone else's Darryl?
She was crying again. She wasn't even sure she was sad, but there were tears leaking from her face and now her mascara was running. Great. She hoped her nose didn't start running too.
Greg patted her awkwardly on the shoulder. He looked deeply uncomfortable. “Maybe you shouldn't do this, then. Tell them you're not interested.”
She knew he was right. She didn't want to do this anymore. The thought of killing vampires tasted like ash in her mouth. “Yeah,” she said softly. “Maybe.”
She was such a disappointment of a Slayer.
“No, I mean it,” he said. “There's lots of Slayers. Tell them to find someone else.”
“But it's supposed to be me. It's my destiny.”
She bit her lip. “You don't think that makes me a coward? Or a failure?”
Greg stared at her incredulously. “You're a New York lawyer. You went to Harvard and Yale. You're smart, beautiful, talented, and also have superpowers. You're -- you're the kind of person who's too good for West Covina. People like you move away from places like this when you turn eighteen and never come back. Not wanting to kill people isn't going to take away from that, are you kidding me?”
Her cheeks burned. “Aww, stop it,” she said with a slight laugh to dispel the mood. “You're making me blush.”
Greg let her hang out with him for a while. He turned on the TV, flipped channels until he found a movie, and cleared a space for her on the couch without complaint even though it was the middle of the night. He didn't make her talk or anything, just let her distract herself with the characters on the screen.
She woke up when he shook her shoulder. On the television, the credits were rolling, volume low and indistinct.
“Hey,” she said. She didn't remember the second half of the movie. Her head had fallen onto his shoulder at some point. It felt nice there.
“Hey,” he said softly.
Rebecca yawned. She looked at the door; she should probably get home, especially since it was so late that it was starting to be early, but it was hard to keep her eyes open and she didn't want to go back in the cold. “So, I should probably get out of your hair and leave you alone,” she began in embarrassment. “But I walked here.”
“From your place?” Greg asked. He shifted but didn't get up. “It's kinda far. You wanna sleep here tonight? I can give you a ride in the morning.”
Rebecca thought about it. Greg was warm and smelled nice. His shirt was soft against her cheek. She'd made worse decisions in the past. Much worse. So, she sat up, turned, and kissed him.
There was a split second when his mouth was soft and unresponsive, but then he got with the picture and kissed her back. And just as quickly, before Rebecca's body could finish going from this is nice to do me now, he was pushing her away.
He caught her when she tried to get up.
“That was definitely not what I meant,” Greg commented. He squeezed her shoulders. “I want to. God, I really want to. But I don't want you to do anything you might regret. So why don't you get some sleep first, on this couch, and let me know if you still want to do this in the morning.”
He sounded like each word was being dragged out of him by a rusty icepick. He looked like he couldn't quite believe the words coming out of his mouth.
That was not the response Rebecca expected. “Are you sure?”
Greg sighed and rubbed a hand blearily over his face. “Yeah,” he said, getting up. “I'm going to bed. Night.”
The next morning, Rebecca woke Greg up by jumping naked onto his bed.
This time, he didn't turn her down.
Rebecca took a deep breath and went over the words again in her head. She could do this. All she had to do was pretend she was getting calls from another firm trying to recruit her. She didn't even have to pretend; she still got those regularly.
“I thought about your offer and I don't want to be a Slayer anymore. Thank you for telling me about Slayers and demons, but I'm not interested.”
Theresa didn't look surprised at all. “Okay.”
“Okay? That's it?”
“You don't have to fight with us if you don't want to. Honestly, we figured something like this would happen after last night. You... didn't look like you were having fun once we actually started fighting.”
“I wasn't,” Rebecca admitted. “I wanted to. I wanted to like it and be cool and want to save the world and all, but. I know it's your thing and I know it's who you are, but that's not me. Slaying isn't who I am and I know it's important, but it's not what I want to do. I'm sorry. I don't mean to disappoint you.”
“We're not disappointed. It's really fine. We go out to meet new Slayers all the time. A lot of them don't join us right away or even at all. You know, it's funny,” Theresa said. “When I sent back your information to headquarters, you were already in our records. Apparently we had a file on you from years ago.”
“Really?” Rebecca said. “How come no one told me?”
“You were in Harvard. Harvard. They saw you and realized you were going to school and decided that they were going to let you be a normal girl a while longer. We didn't need to get in the way of your life then.”
“Aww.” Rebecca put her hands over her heart. Who she was when she was in undergrad felt like a million years ago. Then-Rebecca would have dropped everything to become a Slayer, but looking at it now, she knew that wouldn't have been a good idea. “Thanks.”
“Anyways, we've been here long enough. It's time for us to get back to Cleveland. You have our numbers so don't be a stranger. Call once in a while just to check in. I hear you've been giving legal advice to demons nowadays. Let us know how it goes.”
Emily's case had really only needed a sternly-worded letter to start more favorable negotiations. In turn, Emily had referred Rebecca to all of her demon friends and Rebecca now had more leads on cases than she thought she could handle.
Darryl was ecstatic, both at the increased business and the chance to become more involved in the West Covina demon community.
“I will,” Rebecca said. “And hey, if you guys ever find yourself needing a lawyer for demon stuff, you know where to find me too.”
“Do you know what this is about?” Tim asked the room as they all filed into the big conference room for the company-wide meeting.
“I don't know but I hope someone explains those weird cases Rebecca keeps finding,” Jim said. “I hear the last client wore a mask and trenchcoat. The receptionist thought she was getting robbed until she said she was here for Rebecca.”
“Amber has a skin condition,” Paula said, taking a seat next to Rebecca. “She's allergic to sunlight.”
“Yeah, it's called porphyria,” Rebecca added archly. “Look it up.”
Jim was stopped from replying by Darryl's arrival at the front of the room. Darryl didn't have anything in his hands or a presentation on the wall. Instead, he clasped his hands together and bounced in place, grinning broadly.
“Everyone, I have something to say,” Darryl announced.
Paula put a hand over her eyes. “Oh god.”
“I am a demon.”
Rebecca braced herself for a long meeting.